GV Paya Lebar opened last week with, among other offerings, Blade Runner 2049, the long-awaited sci-fi neo-noir sequel to the original cult classic Blade Runner. This statement alone marks a number of notable milestones – for the film and cinema industries and our local cultural scene.
Let’s take the film first.
Blade Runner has been always been a film which grew on you. When I first saw it, I did not quite know what to make of the 1982 Ridley Scott adaption of a Philip K. Dick novel. All I gathered was that it took place in a dystopian Los Angeles 2019 (which, by the way, is only two years from now!). Harrison Ford was Rick Deckard, a burnout LA cop assigned to hunt down rebel replicants (synthetic humans) who had escaped to earth.
I remember that most of the scenes had a bête-noir feel – mostly shot in the dark, filled with smoke and mist and dampness. And always, there was this haunting giant video billboard of a girl smiling seductively at you.
The film was enjoyable just for that out-of-this-world escapism. Questions like who or what was Deckard himself (human or robot?), what the origami horse was and will the world become like this only emerged with the passing years.
Some 35 years on and we are back – but I will leave it to you to find out what LA is like in 2049 and whether Ryan Gosling as another replicant-hunting cop could or did measure up to the iconic Ford aka Indiana Jones aka Han Solo. The fight scenes are terrific and new girl, Ana de Armas, a stunning Cuban actress portraying Gosling’s love interest, is, to use the phrase again, out-of-this world.
Some decades have also passed since the cinema lights literally went out in the the Geylang-Paya Lebar-Katong-East Coast Road area, if we discount Leisurepark Kallang housing a Filmgarde cineplex and those in Bedok. The opening of a new cineplex , GV Paya Lebar, at SingPost Centre just next to the Paya Lebar MRT, says the cinema is making a comeback here. GV Paya Lebar precedes Cathay’s outlet in Parkway Parade to add on to GV Katong at 112 Katong. More will possibly come in at least three or more shopping malls springing up in Paya Lebar/Geylang Serai/Tanjong Katong.
There were once more cinemas packed in the area than downtown or in Orchard Road. At a rough recollection, just look at this list: three cinemas in Gay World, formerly Happy World, amusement park (Happy, Victory and Silver City), Queens (ex-Wembley), Hollywood, Bright, Singapura, Galaxy (ex-Garrick), Palace (ex-Paradise), Roxy, Odeon Katong, Republic, Liberty, Central (in Eunos), Ocean and New City.
I have been to all the cinemas in this list, except the last three.
These are my main memories.
The Gay World cinemas were the first ones I have ever been to. I stayed in Geylang Road just opposite the park and I had spent many pleasant afternoons watching cartoons, King Kong, the old Rocket Man black and whites and Chinese kungfu films, paying only 10-40 cents for each show. The theatres were decent, with wooden chairs and fans (wow).
I used to go to my uncle’s house in Katong for the school holidays. I went to the revamped Roxy and Odeon-Katong, not the even older original versions. But the revamped theatres themselves were something like 60 years ago! The first film I saw at Odeon-Katong was Hollywood Or Bust, starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, who just died in August. There was an incident. A roof slab dropped off and fell to one side of the theatre during the show. Luckily no one was hurt.
The Galaxy was where I was introduced by an Indian Singaporean schoolmate to the wonders of Bollywood. I followed him to watch Sangam at the Galaxy which was just next to Onan Road one weekend evening in 1964. Let me quote Wikipedia on what the film was about: “Sangam is a romance film written by Inder Raj Anand, produced and directed by Raj Kapoor. The film stars Vyjayanthimala in the lead role opposite Raj Kapoor and Rajendra Kumar with Iftekhar, Raj Mehra, Nana Palsikar, Lalita Pawar, Achala Sachdev and Hari Shivdasani appearing in supporting roles.
Sangam was Raj Kapoor’s first colour film, distinguished by its technicolor and epic length (even by Bollywood standards). It is also considered the Magnum Opus or best work of Raj Kapoor. It became a hit in India and is considered a classic today.”
Fine. But the Wikipedia article forgot to elaborate on the word “epic”. The film was so lengthy (more than three hours) that it had two, repeat two, intervals to allow patrons to answer the call of nature or to get some refreshments.
I am very glad that the cinema is returning to the area. I am also happy Singaporeans have not stopped being avid cinema-goers, something which our cinema chains have monitored closely.
In fact, according to the latest IMDA report, “Singapore continues to have the highest number of cinema goers per year, with more than 20 million attendees at 218 cinema screens operated by major players such as Golden Village, Shaw Organisation, Cathay Organisation and Filmgarde, achieving one of the highest per capita attendances in the world”.
Forget that non-debate in Parliament between Sylvia Lim and K. Shanmugam over the Elected Presidency – with its dual show of “pained looks” by both. I really don’t know who was right or wrong. All I know was that Sylvia had this strange why-are-you-so-like-dat appearance and the Shan had his perpetual why-am-I-talking-to idiots stare.
Relax. See you in the cinema.
Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.